I’m sitting in San Antonio, Texas right now ready to attend ISTE 2013. This is my 7th year to attend this conference, and I have to credit ISTE with providing opportunities to learn and think differently about myself as an educator.
This is the place where I meet (quite literally) hundreds of new people. Considering ISTE brings in tens of thousands of attendees, that’s still a mind-boggling concept for me. Some of these people I meet will become part of my learning network. Some of them will become (and have been, as time has proven) some of my closest and dearest friends. I’ll admit… I geek out a little and may even scare a few poor souls when it comes to my excitement for learning from someone new. Where else can an educator go and have this type of environment to meet and learn with 15,000 or more of your “closest” friends?
Someone once said, and I wish I remembered who, that the ISTE conference has become the premier education conference (not just ed tech) in the world. I don’t know if I agree with that statement, but it did get me thinking. When I first started attending ISTE/NECC, the focus was most definitely on integrating technology into classrooms, helping educators learn best practices in using technology, and creating some technology standards for students, teachers, and administrators. At the time, that was definitely needed, and kudos to ISTE for leading that charge.
I wonder now, though… no, I don’t wonder. I fully believe that the conversations and the focus need to evolve. I don’t think there are too many educators, parents, or communities who would argue against the need for technology to be included in education. It’s simply a part of our world… and yes… I know there are still those holdouts that cling tightly to their pride in being blissfully anti-tech.
So where does that leave ISTE?
My ISTE wish is that the organization and, subsequently, its conference, would move forward into a heavier emphasis on educational progress with the technology and the tools taking a supporting role. As a former coordinator of technology professional development, our first step was to help our educators begin using the tools. After a short time, I understood the need for a significant change. The tools were taking a starring role – we used technology simply for the sake of using technology. We needed to help educators focus on the learning. The tools were simply that… tools.
If you look at the ISTE program this year, you’ll see a very common theme. Session descriptions include names of specific tools, products, or technology emphasis. I get it. The “T” in ISTE is “technology.” Even in my own group’s presentation/workshop, we’re sharing some web tools that can be used in the classroom. The focus is still on the tools, and that’s not how I operate. I would much rather be sharing with interested educators how inquiry can help lead students to deeper learning, and “Oh, by the way… here are some tools that can help you do x, y, or z.” In my own classroom, I rarely ask the kids to use ONE specific tool. They have options and choice to use the tool that best works for them to demonstrate their learning.
Ten years ago, I attended the now defunct Midwest Internet Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska, and David Warlick was the keynote speaker. He shared a lesson idea with us about how technology could transform a traditional lesson from a textbook. Mashups were still fairly new at the time, and definitely new to me. David shared a map and then created an overlay with video (I don’t remember all the specifics), but we were somewhat in awe of what we had just seen. The key point I remember from that day was that David didn’t have us gushing over the technology. It was the way he talked about what KIDS could do to learn differently – gain a deeper understanding, share their ideas differently, etc. - that made the biggest impact on me. I jokingly call David Warlick my “Educational Philosophy Godfather,” because it was that day when I started to realize that education had to change. My philosophy about teaching and learning shifted, and that impacts me greatly yet today. As my Anastasis students always say, “That’s an epiphany moment, Mrs. B!”
This is what I want to see at ISTE. I know that the vendors are great supporters of ISTE and a necessary piece of the puzzle, but I think they drive what happens at the conference with too great an influence. I’m not a fan of financial supporters who say, “Sure, I’ll give you a lot of money, but I want to direct some /all of what you do.” Let’s be done with that. (I know, I know… but let me dream here.)
I want the opportunity for educators who have not had their own education epiphanies to come away from ISTE completely inspired by an educational idea… not how much free stuff and t-shirts they accumulated. Don’t even get me started on the Surface tablet giveaways.
For me, I want the opportunity to have rich conversations with the brilliant people around me- to learn with them and to be able to take back some great new ideas to our school. If tools are mentioned in those conversations, great. I know, however, those tools won’t be the focus. When I think about education, I bring every new idea back to one simple thing: how will this impact a student’s learning? Plain and simple.
If you’re here in San Antonio, I hope you have a fantastic conference. If you feel like sharing something you learned this week in the comments, I would be most grateful.